KOLKATA -- Soccer has always been close to the people's heart in West Bengal, but footballs are no longer produced in the state.
"Bengal was supplier of footballs in the past, but now the demand is fulfilled by Punjab and some other places. We have been entrusted by Mamata Banerjee to do something and now we are close to beginning commercial manufacturing of footballs in the state," Refugee Handicraft Managing Committee Chairman Manas KR Bhattacharyya said.
"Currently, we are producing soccer balls on trial and some 350 balls are under numerous methods of testing. In another one to two months we'll stabilise everything to begin commercial manufacturing," he said.
After Banerjee takes charge again as chief minister, the committee will seek her advice in finalising a brand for the soccer balls to sell them in the open market.
Bhattacharyya said the manufacturing of footballs involved complex stitching skill and the trade would be gradually scaled up.
"We have trained 41 people in a village near Tarakeswar in Hoogly district in making footballs. Most of them are women and now we are planning to have another training camp in Howrah. In the first phase, we want to engage 100 trained manpower into these soccer ball making.
MSME Secretary Rajiva Sinha is closely associated with the programme, he said and expressed confidence that the government's hand-holding would revive this trade that declined in the 1970s.
The government is offering free training along with a stipend of Rs 750 per month. Post this, the government will provide all raw materials to them to produce footballs and help them to earn Rs 40-50 per ball.
"The government's aim is to generate employment and not to make profit. So Refugee Handicrafts can sell the soccer balls at more competitive price than major brands," he added.
Bengal's demand is about one lakh soccer balls a year and is fulfilled mostly by Punjab.